By Kyle Barr
Fallen U.S. Airman Christopher Raguso, who perished in a March 15 helicopter crash, promised his Commack family he would get them a dog upon his return. Although he never came home, a local organization has stepped in to fulfill his pledge.
Paws of War, a Nesconset-based nonprofit that helps connect dogs with veterans and retired law
enforcement as companion animals or to be trained as service dogs, gifted a 4-month-old black Labrador named Calvin to the family Aug. 24.
“I didn’t sleep at all last night I was so excited,” Raguso’s wife, Carmela, said. “We needed this — we’re wounded, our dad was a warrior, our hearts are broken and maybe this dog can help us.”
Carmela Raguso told her two daughters, Eva, 5, and Mila,7, when the truck rolled up it was just their family friend, Joe Bachert, a retired member of the New York City Fire Department, bringing his own dogs for them to play with. Instead, Bachert came out of the vehicle with Calvin cradled in his arms.
Eva ran forward with her arms outstretched, screaming with delight, and started to hug and kiss the young pooch. Mila asked her mother if the dog was theirs, who responded that of course he was.
“I’ve been dreaming about this,” Eva said, as she held Calvin’s head close to hers. “I like him so much.”
Raguso’s wife said Eva took the death of her father hard. The couple’s youngest had taken to sleeping in bed with her, “to keep her father’s side of the bed warm.” Now, with the addition of Calvin, Eva said she will be sleeping in her own bed with Calvin always at her side.
“To have this dog be her buddy and especially be her sleeping buddy, maybe she’ll sleep well,” Raguso’s wife said. “It’s been tough, but we put one foot in front of the other — we honor the dead by living.”
Raguso was one of seven members of New York’s 106th Rescue Wing killed in the line of duty when a H-60 Pave Hawk helicopter crashed while carrying out a mission in support of Operation Inherent Resolve, an American-led mission to defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria, according to the U.S. Department of Defense.
“One can’t even imagine what the family is going through, and we hope that this adds a little sunlight to their lives because they’ve been in darkness for some time,” said Smithtown resident Robert Misseri, a co-founder of Paws of War.
The black Lab was just one of a litter of 11 puppies that Paws of War’s sister organization and nonprofit rescue group Guardians of Rescue saved from a high-kill shelter in Louisiana, days before they would have been put down, according to Misseri. The rest of the dogs will be given to other veterans and veterans’ families either as a companion animal or be fully trained as a service dog.
The Nesconset nonprofit provided the Raguso family with a puppy starter kit that included everything from food to toys, and even a cage. Calvin is already leash trained and housebroken, and Misseri said the rest of the dog’s training will be provided for free.
“The goal is just to make their lives better and put smiles on their faces,” said Bachert, who is a member of Paws of War and served as Raguso’s drill instructor in the Commack firefighter academy.
By all accounts, Calvin was excited to be with his new family, but he was still nervous of new places. As the family tried to bring him into the house the young puppy shied away from the door.
It was only when Eva went inside, suddenly upset by a rush of emotions, that Calvin darted after her. He instinctively knew his role with the family, to comfort them in their continued grief.